Democrats To Highlight Education At Convention

By Joetta L. Sack — August 14, 2000 3 min read
Election 2000

Democrats are planning to stake out a strong position on education this week as they gather in Los Angeles to select their nominee for president.

The Democratic National Convention, running today through Thursday in the City of Angels, is set to include several education events. In addition, the nation’s two major teachers’ unions and other groups are planning their own activities to spotlight education.

Throughout the week, Education Week on the Web will keep readers abreast of key education developments at the convention with regular electronic updates.

Julie Green, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said the party has put education at the forefront. “Our convention is going to focus on issues, and in particular, issues that are told by hard-working Americans across the country,” she said.

The Democratic meeting opens today, just two weeks after an upbeat and tightly scripted Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. The GOP event featured retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an advocate for volunteerism, and Laura Bush, the wife of GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush, among others, addressing education issues. Both parties’ leaders agree that schools should be held more accountable for greater federal education funding, but the two parties differ significantly in how they would fashion an accountability policy. (See Education Week’sCoverage of the Republican National Convention.)

This week, Democrats have designated Tuesday as the day to focus on education. But convention headliners, including Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive presidential nominee, and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, as well as President and Mrs. Clinton, are expected to touch on education in their speeches.

Tomorrow, U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, will lead a panel discussion on education. In addition, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council is planning to hold an education event tomorrow morning featuring Sen. Lieberman, Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper; and Roy Romer, the current Los Angeles superintendent of schools and former governor of Colorado.

Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, who is rumored to be a leading contender for the post of secretary of education should Mr. Gore be elected president, is planning to speak on Tuesday afternoon, as well.

Finally, U.S. Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a 30-year-old Democrat from Tennessee who serves on the Education and the Workforce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, is slated to give the keynote address on education and other domestic issues Tuesday evening. According to the DNC, Mr. Ford was chosen because Mr. Gore and others consider him a rising star in the party. National Education Association President Bob Chase and American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman are also scheduled to speak at the convention.

Last week, media and public attention focused on Mr. Gore’s choice of Sen. Lieberman as his vice presidential running mate. Sen. Lieberman, who chairs the DLC, is the first Jewish candidate chosen to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket. He is known in education circles for his past support of vouchers for students from low-income families--a position in direct opposition to both Mr. Gore and the teachers’ unions’ planks on education.

The DLC also released a proposal for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization that contrasted with the White House ESEA plan by calling for a more radical overhaul of existing federal programs and tougher accountability measures. Congress is still in the process of reauthorizing the ESEA, which is the federal government’s centerpiece law on K- 12 education. (“Moderate Democrats Aim To Restructure K-12 Programs,” Feb.16, 2000.)

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush said he “respects” Sen. Lieberman’s position on school choice and has called the vice presidential candidate’s education views more in line with his own than Mr. Gore’s. Last week, he also accused Mr. Gore of waffling on his views on school choice and vouchers.

But Andrew Rotherham, the education policy analyst for the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank for the DLC, downplayed the education policy differences between Sen. Lieberman and Mr. Gore.

Sen. Lieberman “is really a tremendous pick,” Mr. Rotherham said. “On the big issues around education, these guys are in agreement, and they have ideas that will not only appeal to a lot of people, but will go a long way toward improving education.”